Fans, Analysts Need to Let Go of 2008, Start Thinking About 2010

April 8, 2010 Leave a comment

I lost a little bit of respect for Todd Kalas last night.

In his post-game interview, Kalas asked Rays third baseman Evan Longoria if this year’s team shows characteristics similar to the 2008 World Series club.

Kalas should know better than that.

But Longoria quickly responded, saying that the team is focused on 2010. You go, Evan. At least the players have the right idea.

That’s because athletes know how to live in the present. Of course, they want to get back to the World Series and repeat the magic they created in 2008, but they realize that was two seasons ago, and we need to do the same.

With that said, this year’s team looks really good, and the excitement is hard to ignore. They have two come from behind wins, and it seems like everyone is contributing (except Pat Burrell, of course). Their outstanding play in spring training added to the high hopes.

But it does get tiresome hearing analysts ask if the Rays can “get back to their 2008 form,” or if the Rays can execute in what may be their so-called “last chance to win,” suggesting that all hope will be lost once Crawford and Peña are gone.

The fact is, the team has not left that form. In 2008, no one had a career year. It was the group coming together night after night that created the magic. Last year, it was a problem of consistency. 2010 can be the the best year of the three.

Though we are only two games into the season, I can see a sense of urgency that I didn’t see last season. I can see the leadership. I can see that the team is ready to go all the way. That’s what was missing at the beginning of last season. Once the Rays started to get into a groove, it was too late.

The Rays have the young talent. But more than that, their young guys are quickly becoming leaders. This weekend will be their first test when the Yankees come to town. And with Saturday’s game to be televised nationally, they will have their first chance to show the country that they are for real.

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Categories: Rays Talk

I’m Not Sure How to Put This, But… Evan Longoria is Kind of a Big Deal

April 7, 2010 1 comment

I’m sure he has many leather-bound books, and I bet his apartment smells of rich mahogany.

He graces the cover if this year’s MLB 2K video game, and he stars in New Era’s latest television commercial.

Don’t be surprised if he is on your next box of Wheaties.

Never has Tampa Bay had an athlete as dynamic and as marketable as Evan Longoria. He might arguably be the most marketable player in all of Major League Baseball.

And the best part? He’s not a Yankee. He’s not a Red Sox. He’s not a Philly, not a Cub, not even a Dodger. He’s a Ray.

Longoria is just one cool dude.

But let’s not forget, he’s a pretty good baseball player, too. His home run last night against Kevin Millwood traveled 473 feet–the third longest in Tropicana Field History. And his do-or-die defensive play in the top of the ninth shows that he excels all facets of the game of baseball. Many notable analysts from ESPN and MLB Network predicted he will win the American League MVP.

A case can be made that the ever-popular Longoria is also the best player the Rays have had in the organization’s short history. If things workout, he will be wearing a Rays uniform through the 2014 season.

But some are afraid the team will have trouble building around him, especially since they are expected to lose Carl Crawford and Carlos Peña after this season. Some also wonder if his fate will be the same once he hits free agency.

But Evan Longoria is that guy. He’s the franchise. He’s our Derek Jeter, he’s our Albert Pujols, he’s our Joe Mauer. He’s the guy that’s simply irreplaceable. The Rays have a very special player, and they need to keep him around.

Let’s look at a few stats, shall we?

In only his second season, Evan Longoria was only one of four players in the American League with at least 30 HRs, 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored. I could add in a few more stats and narrow the list even further, but I don’t want to go all Buster Olney on you guys.

At just 24, he’s been to a World Series and two all-star games. He has a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award. Oh, yeah, and that Rookie of the Year thing, too.

Whatever the Rays need to do to keep Evan Longoria around, they’ve got to do it. This guy sells tickets by himself, and he makes the players around him better. The longer he’s a Ray, the longer they can win.

Matt Garza Must Emerge as Staff Ace in 2010

April 6, 2010 Leave a comment

I vividly remember fan reactions when Delmon Young was dealt for Matt Garza.

One friend told me, “Dude, the Rays just made the dumbest trade in history.”

Sure, there were other players involved, but at that time, Garza for Young seemed to be the focus of the deal.

Many did not understand. Mainly because they had no idea who Matt Garza was. They didn’t know that he was a first round draft pick, or that he won the USA Today Minor League Player of the Year Award in 2006.

To them, it was another case of The Rays trading top talent for nothing.

But the real baseball fans in Tampa Bay knew all about Matt Garza. And I, for one, was ecstatic when I heard the news.

His signs of brilliance in his first big league season in 2008–especially in August and September–was anything but a surprise to me. Hearing, “You were right about this guy” never got old.

But after a step sideways last year, I was left wondering if he could truly be an ace.

Now, his third year, it’s time for him to put it all together. We all know what he can do when he’s on. But we also know what he can do when he’s off. He has been criticized in the past for being mentally weak.

So, why am I singling out Matt Garza? The answer is in his makeup.

There is no question he has the most electric stuff on the staff and perhaps in all of the American League. His increase in K/9IP (6.2 in 2008 to 8.4 in 2009) shows that he’s only getting better.

But what about the others?

There’s no doubt that James Shields is a horse. He is durable, competitive, and good for a solid 200+ innings a year. But at age 28, I feel like he has hit his ceiling, and he’s as good as he’s going to get. Not that that’s a bad thing.

As for Niemann, Davis and Price, they will have their chances to shine. I am just not ready to rely on any of them as aces just yet.

But Garza has what it takes right now. And if he breaks out, he has the chance to be the guy for the Rays in 2010, and put the team in position for another trip to the fall classic.

Categories: Rays Talk

The Greatest Day of the Year

April 5, 2010 1 comment

Opening day is here, and I have made a few observations.

    1. The Red Sox will have no problem scoring runs.
    2. The Reds are still too immature to win.
    3. Jason Heyward is the real deal.
    4. Following Ozzie Guillen on Twitter isn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be.
    5. Albert Pujols wastes no time making his case for his 3rd MVP in a row
    6. Kevin Youkilis is on pace for 162 triples.
    7. Jeff Samardzijojiozdjsoja should have stuck with football.

Jay-Hey has arrived

All things aside, here are a few (not so) bold predictions for the 2010 season

Jason Heyward wins NL ROY… And NL MVP. Sorry Albert, but this guy may end your streak this year. He is a legitimate 5-tool player that has as much discipline as he does talent. Look out, world.

The AL Central will NOT be a three team race. That’s because I see the Twins running away with it. They possess what I feel is the best lineup in the American league, and they may still have the best bullpen in their division even without Joe Nathan. They also have the best manager in their division with Ron Gardenhire.

Cliff Lee flops. Yup. I said it. This guy has a lot of pressure on him, and he’s already having problems. First was the suspension, then the nagging injuries. If he does have a good year, it will come after a rough first half.

Finally, The NL West will be the most exciting playoff race come September. The AL East, AL West and NL East should all have a good three team race. But what sets the NL West apart is the possibility of a four team race. The Dodgers are ready to win their third consecutive title, and we all know what the Rockies and Giants are capable of. But don’t forget about the Diamondbacks, who have perhaps the most dynamic athlete in the league (Yes, I’m talking about Justin Upton), as well as a much improved starting rotation.

A Few More

  • Angels win the AL West again (yawn)
  • B.J. Upton goes 30-30. You watch.
  • The Orioles will play .500 ball
  • So will the Pirates
  • Youkilis will not hit 162 triples. You heard it here first.
Categories: Around the league

A Tribute to the Most Overrated Rivalry in Baseball

April 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Yes, I’m talking about the Yankees and the Red Sox. You’re probably shaking your head.

But let’s face it. The rivalry is everywhere. Whenever the two teams face off, you can bet your house and your car that every game will be televised nationally. And if that’s not enough, it will be the first highlight on SportsCenter.

I guess what I’m saying is, “Less is more.”

The rivalry has its history, i know, and the two teams have the biggest fan bases in all of baseball, I get it. but there’s no denying that some fans are getting tired of this overhyped matchup.

And now we have to watch it on opening day.

ESPN has had exclusive rights to televise the first game of the MLB season for quite some time. With all of the opening day excitement, people will tune in regardless of who is playing, and since the Yanks and Sox will get great ratings no matter what time of season, why not give some other teams the chance to have the spotlight?

Because that would make too much sense.

Now, I don’t want anyone to believe that I hate this rivalry. In fact, I believe that Yankees vs. Red Sox in September is some of the best baseball a fan will watch. What I’m saying is that this rivalry is simply not what it used to be, for a number of reasons.

I blame it on the 2003 and 2004 playoffs. This is when the rivalry reached its most recent peak. In ’03, we had the Martinez-Zimmer incident, as well as the epic game 7 in the ALCS, the game that the Red Sox spent the entire ’04 season avenging.

And did they ever. The 3-0 comeback the Red Sox pulled off in the ALCS that year is one of the best stories in the history of professional sports.

But maybe Boston’s World Series title is what put the dagger in the rivalry for fans like myself.

For years, fans wanted to see the Red Sox break the curse. Every time they came up just short, baseball nation rooted for them that much more. When they finally won the title–and made a four year mini-dynasty, they stopped caring. And with the emergence of the Rays as a legitimate contender, the rivalry has certainly lost its charm.

I used to joke that I likes any team that beat the Yankees. Now, I say like any team that beats the Yankees–and LOVE any team the beats the Red Sox.

Categories: Around the league

Analysts Should Stop Trying to Pick Next “Worst to First” Team

April 3, 2010 Leave a comment

In 2008, the Rays made magic.

An organization that experienced nothing but futility for its first 10 years suddenly broke out, and we watched them go from the worst team in baseball to the best.

One thing is for sure, though, it didn’t happen overnight. And it prompted a new kind of debate every spring. Which is the next team to go worst to first?

photo from tampabay.com

But analysts need to realize that the ‘08 Rays club was a special case, and that many things had to fall in place for them to have the winning season that they did. Suggesting that a different team is capable to replicate that every season is silly.

There were many factors that led to Rays’ climb to the top.

It started with the name change. Now, I’m not saying that every last place team needs to change their name to have a chance, but it was no secret that the new look brought a new sense of enthusiasm and excitement.

Next was the nucleus. The Rays added veterans as well as young talent, and more importantly, got rid of problems. This led to the team chemistry needed to win consistently.

Finally, the manager. I know Joe Maddon makes his mistakes, and he is often criticized for being too loyal to certain players, but there is no question that he gets the best out of them. Maddon’s guys are motivated, and that’s a big key to his success.

When it comes to other popular “worst to first” picks, the Royals were a popular pick in ’09 and the Diamondbacks this year, they just don’t have the spark the ’08 Rays had to make such a drastic improvement.

I’m not saying that the Royals and Diamondbacks are unimproved, but it takes much more that adding a few good players to a roster.

A plethora of things had to come together for the ’08 Rays. It was a combination of great ownership, young talent and team chemistry that got the job done. Not only will they be the last team to go worst to first for a long time, they have turned themselves into a legitimate contender and are ready to get back to the top.

And for the baseball geniuses who keep trying to pick the next worst to first team, keep dreaming.

Categories: Around the league

In Baseball, 30 is the New 40.

April 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Let’s take a trip way back to 1998.

In this year, Kevin Brown was the league’s best pitcher, and would inevitably become Major League Baseball’s first $100 million player. He signed the record breaking 7 year contract at age 34.

Starting in the late 90’s up until the retirement of Barry Bonds, it was all too common for players to have their best years past 35.

We all know about Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens and others who seemed to get better with age, players who’s numbers continued to get better well after their prime.

And what do they all have in common? You guessed it. But I’m not here to be accusatory, I’m just pointing out a change in the trend.

Now that baseball is clean(ish), players are finding it difficult to find work with many teams going for the youth movement. And if they have too much pride to back up a twenty-something starter, their best option may be to take a deep pay cut, play for a losing team, and hope to get traded to a contender.

Sometimes it leaves me scratching my head.

Capable players like Jon Garland (30), Jason Marquis (31) and Orlando Hudson (32) will all enter 2010 with their third team in as many seasons. They are all coming off one of the top three years of their careers.

photo from dallasobserver.com


Hank Blalock, who is only 29(!), couldn’t even make the Tampa Bay Rays’ roster after he signed a minor league deal with the team this spring. To be fair, he had suffered a few injuries in recent years, but he seemed to bounce back in 2009, and don’t forget that he was a staple in the Rangers’ offense for quite some time.

What does this mean? That baseball players are becoming humans again. They are aging much faster, and they getting more and more fragile.

Now that we’re past the era of performance enhancing drugs, very seldom will we see another player put together a string of MVP’s in their late 30’s. And as a result, contracts like Kevin Brown’s will be few and far between.

The true telling will come when the game’s current elite start to fade and when the league’s young phenoms reach their peaks in the coming years.

Categories: Around the league